RE: What is variable compression ratio? PH Explains

RE: What is variable compression ratio? PH Explains

Monday 25th June

What is variable compression ratio? PH Explains

How dynamically varying the compression ratio of an engine can boost output and efficiency



In a conventional piston engine, the compression ratio defines the relationship between the largest and smallest volume of a cylinder - when its piston is at bottom dead centre and top dead centre respectively.

When it comes to designing or building a new engine, it's imperative that a suitable compression ratio is chosen. High compression ratios maximise efficiency and power output but also increase the chance of pre-ignition or detonation - particularly in force-fed applications - which can cause catastrophic damage.

A lower compression ratio reduces the chance of these issues but also decreases the efficiency and output of the engine - the latter of which can be compensated for through the use of forced induction. Designers of turbocharged or supercharged engines will consequently opt for a suitable, compromised compression ratio that permits adequate power and efficiency without inducing reliability concerns.

If the compression ratio in a force-fed engine could be varied, however, then the optimum ratio could be selected for the load which the engine is experiencing at that particular moment - allowing for its power output or efficiency to be maximised safely. Such a system is used by the Infiniti QX50 and its 'Variable Compression Turbo' engine.


How does variable compression ratio technology work?
The aim of variable compression is to deliver an engine that is efficient yet capable of producing a substantial amount of power. As a result, it is generally applied to downsized, force-fed engines. These smaller engines are inherently more efficient than bigger ones, while the use of forced induction permits them to produce power and torque equivalent to larger engines.

Getting the best from these downsized powerplants is easiest when the compression ratio can be varied, in order to prevent combustion issues under heavy load while also permitting improved efficiency when cruising.

A Focus ST, for example, has a compression ratio of 9.1:1. An engine with a variable compression ratio, on the other hand, could drop as low as 8.0:1 when accelerating - permitting plenty of boost and producing lots of power. When cruising and requiring little boost, that compression ratio could safely rise to 14:1 in order to maximise the engine's thermal efficiency and improve its fuel consumption.

Adjusting the compression ratio of an engine on the fly requires complex mechanical and electronic control systems, as well as a bespoke engine design that permits for variations in its geometry. One approach is to change the position of the cylinder head itself; the prototype 'Saab Variable Compression' engine, first unveiled in 2000, used this method. This supercharged 1.6-litre, five-cylinder engine featured a 'monohead' - a head with integral cylinders - that could be tilted by up to four degrees.

When the angle of the head was adjusted, in relation to the pistons and crank, it would cause the volume of the combustion chamber to increase or decrease - causing a respective change in the compression ratio. Saab stated that the operating range was from 8:1 to 14:1 and, at its peak, that the engine would produce 225hp and 224lb ft.

The modern Infiniti VC-T engine, which is the first production engine with variable compression, took a different tack. Unlike Saab, the Infiniti engine features a multi-link system that supersedes the conventional crankshaft and connecting rod configuration. Altering the angle of this linkage changes the maximum height of the pistons in the bore, increasing or decreasing the compression ratio as desired.


Are there any other benefits to variable compression ratio tech?
There are other reasons that a manufacturer may want to adopt a variable compression ratio system. High-compression engines experience high in-cylinder temperatures, for one thing, due to the increased compression - which results in excess nitrogen oxide emissions and possible cooling issues. An engine with a low compression ratio isn't as thermally efficient but produces less NOx, while its warmer exhaust gases allow catalytic converters to start functioning from cold quicker.

A variable compression ratio system could consequently allow a manufacturer to deliver the best balance of efficiency, output and emissions across a wide range of engine loads. There are a plethora of considerations, though, and the cost and complication of a variable compression system can often outweigh the benefits.


A brief history of automotive variable compression ratio technology
Saab was the first manufacturer to introduce the concept of variable compression ratio technology to the automotive market, introducing its prototype 'Saab Variable Compression' engine in 2000. Besides producing a substantial 150hp and 147lb ft per litre, the SVC was also claimed to offer a 30 per cent reduction in fuel consumption compared to a conventional naturally aspirated 1.6-litre engine.

Its emissions were also claimed to be capable of meeting future regulations. The project was abandoned not long after, unfortunately, reputedly due to cost-cutting measures from new parent company GM.

Other companies, including Peugeot, also explored the potential of using engines with a variable compression ratio - but it was Nissan's premium arm, Infiniti, which produced the first production engine in which the compression ratio could be varied. Its 'Variable Compression Turbo' engine was unveiled in late 2016 and, like the Saab, offered a compression ratio that ranged from 8:1 to 14:1. This engine ultimately made it into production in the 2018 Infiniti QX50.

The turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine produced a substantial 268hp and 288lb ft and, much like Saab's engine, it was mooted to offer a 27 per cent improvement in efficiency compared to a similarly powerful V6.

Small prototype engines with variable compression systems, however, have existed since the 1920s. These engines have been used to study combustion processes, fuel quality and engine design, and allow for quick acquisition of data across a range of compression ratios.

 

 

 


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Author
Discussion

ggdrew

Original Poster:

53 posts

60 months

Monday 25th June
quotequote all
The initial message was deleted from this topic on 25 June 2018 at 17:36

V8LM

4,657 posts

145 months

Monday 25th June
quotequote all

tgx

73 posts

86 months

Monday 25th June
quotequote all
IMHO, looks like too many moving parts.

kambites

55,407 posts

157 months

Monday 25th June
quotequote all
tgx said:
IMHO, looks like too many moving parts.
Many people said much the same about variable valve timing and that's become pretty standard these days. I suppose the difference is that this is on the power side of the engine which means things have to be considerably stronger and better lubricated but it doesn't sound beyond modern engineering to make it reliable.

9k rpm

100 posts

146 months

Monday 25th June
quotequote all
A lot to go wrong and when it does...... bang! New block please!
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paranoid airbag

2,679 posts

95 months

Monday 25th June
quotequote all
kambites said:
Many people said much the same about variable valve timing and that's become pretty standard these days. I suppose the difference is that this is on the power side of the engine which means things have to be considerably stronger and better lubricated but it doesn't sound beyond modern engineering to make it reliable.
Some engines use variable valve timing AS a way of varying compression.

I can only assume true software-controlled valves are not really possible, since they seem to be the holy grail of ICE.

DCerebrate

190 posts

46 months

Tuesday 26th June
quotequote all
QX50 is only on Infiniti US website - if a revolution, this is a slow start. Average Economy adding 20% for conversion to UK mpg is only 32mpg. Is this really better than ‘best of breed’ of current tech? My 308GTi has exactly the same output, real life economy is 40mpg. Good to see the tech, sadly as an enthusiast for petrol, the future is electric.

kambites

55,407 posts

157 months

Tuesday 26th June
quotequote all
paranoid airbag said:
I can only assume true software-controlled valves are not really possible, since they seem to be the holy grail of ICE.
I believe Saab had some working prototypes with them. I suspect the cost is pretty prohibitive though.

Edited by kambites on Tuesday 26th June 09:05

Flibble

4,119 posts

117 months

Tuesday 26th June
quotequote all
paranoid airbag said:
Some engines use variable valve timing AS a way of varying compression.

I can only assume true software-controlled valves are not really possible, since they seem to be the holy grail of ICE.
You can do them with piezoelectric actuators or the like, but they're very expensive compared to a cam and poppet valve.

JimbobVFR

1,857 posts

80 months

Tuesday 26th June
quotequote all
DCerebrate said:
QX50 is only on Infiniti US website - if a revolution, this is a slow start. Average Economy adding 20% for conversion to UK mpg is only 32mpg. Is this really better than ‘best of breed’ of current tech? My 308GTi has exactly the same output, real life economy is 40mpg. Good to see the tech, sadly as an enthusiast for petrol, the future is electric.
The Infiniti is a 4 wheel drive SUV weighing 1800Kg according to a quick Google, not sure comparing it with a hot hatch is entirely useful.

rev-erend

19,915 posts

220 months

Tuesday 26th June
quotequote all
Why no mention of the Mazda sky active x ?

http://www2.mazda.com/en/next-generation/technolog...


Mr2Mike

20,051 posts

191 months

Tuesday 26th June
quotequote all
kambites said:
I believe Saab had some working prototypes with them. I suspect the cost is pretty prohibitive though.

Edited by kambites on Tuesday 26th June 09:05
Koenigsegg were developing electronic controlled valves using a Saab engine.

227bhp

7,767 posts

64 months

Wednesday 27th June
quotequote all
rev-erend said:
Why no mention of the Mazda sky active x ?

http://www2.mazda.com/en/next-generation/technolog...
Because it has nothing to do with the topic perhaps?

rev-erend

19,915 posts

220 months

Wednesday 27th June
quotequote all
227bhp said:
rev-erend said:
Why no mention of the Mazda sky active x ?

http://www2.mazda.com/en/next-generation/technolog...
Because it has nothing to do with the topic perhaps?
Hey, you are right.

My apologies.

Both look like very interesting technology and will help keep petrol engines alive for a few more years.

Perhaps we need PH to have an article on this new tech as well.

https://arstechnica.com/cars/2018/01/mazdas-skyact...

227bhp

7,767 posts

64 months

Wednesday 27th June
quotequote all
rev-erend said:
227bhp said:
rev-erend said:
Why no mention of the Mazda sky active x ?

http://www2.mazda.com/en/next-generation/technolog...
Because it has nothing to do with the topic perhaps?
Hey, you are right.

My apologies.

Both look like very interesting technology and will help keep petrol engines alive for a few more years.

Perhaps we need PH to have an article on this new tech as well.

https://arstechnica.com/cars/2018/01/mazdas-skyact...
Yes it's all interesting stuff, especially how petrols are becoming more like diesels and vice versa to almost meet in the middle. The problem is of course with 'leccy on the horizon designers and manufacturers are understandably reticent to develop the ICE much further.
I wonder what the limits of the thread's engine are, I would guess at rpm and ponder over how durable it is long term with all those links, bits and pieces flapping around....

RoverP6B

3,698 posts

64 months

Tuesday 3rd July
quotequote all
Isn't this really rather fiddling while Rome burns at a time when 400-mile-range EVs are becoming a reality?

Mr2Mike

20,051 posts

191 months

Wednesday 4th July
quotequote all
RoverP6B said:
Isn't this really rather fiddling while Rome burns at a time when 400-mile-range EVs are becoming a reality?
Yea that's correct, we should immediately give up any further development of IC engines that can reduce fuel use since they will only be made for another 20 years.

rev-erend

19,915 posts

220 months

Wednesday 4th July
quotequote all
EV's currently only have less that 2% of the world car market ..

Vitorio

4,294 posts

79 months

Wednesday 4th July
quotequote all
Imagine having to replace bearings in that engine...

Either way it is really cool tech, and im impressed that this has made it into a production vehicle. Compared to the development we've seen in other tech this is all rather pedestrian, but compare an engine like this to the carb fed monstrosities of just a few decades ago (or the pre-war pig iron lumps which produced 20hp/litre if you were lucky) and i can only get excited by the advanced tech that we have today.

Fastdruid

5,600 posts

88 months

Wednesday 4th July
quotequote all
First by SAAB in 2000?

bks.

I have a book on two stroke tuning by the late John Robinson which features a diagram of one and that book is from 1994 (and it's possible the diagram was in the first edition which is from 1986)

Wikipedia says 1920's and a multitude from the 1950's onwards! SAAB just renewed interest.